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Viewing cable 09BAGHDAD2561, THE GREAT GAME, IN MESOPOTAMIA: IRAQ AND ITS

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Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
09BAGHDAD2561 2009-09-24 03:03 2010-12-05 12:12 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Baghdad
VZCZCXRO2989
OO RUEHBC RUEHDE RUEHDH RUEHIHL RUEHKUK
DE RUEHGB #2561/01 2670322
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
O 240322Z SEP 09
FM AMEMBASSY BAGHDAD
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 4812
INFO RUCNRAQ/IRAQ COLLECTIVE
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 BAGHDAD 002561 

SIPDIS 

E.O. 12958: DECL: 08/18/2019 
TAGS: PGOV PREL IZ SY KU IR TU
SUBJECT: THE GREAT GAME, IN MESOPOTAMIA: IRAQ AND ITS 
NEIGHBORS, PART II 

Classified By: Ambassador Christopher R. Hill, for reasons 1.4 b and d. 


1. (U) This is the second of two cables reviewing Iraq's 
relations with key neighboring countries. this cable focuses 
on Iraq's relations with Syria, in the wake of the August 19 
bombings. 

2. (C) Summary: Iraq's improving relations with its 
neighbors in 2008 and early 2009 represented a critical 
element in its efforts to maintain security and stability and 
normalize its position in the Gulf and the broader region. 
The August 19 bombings -- targeting the MFA, and by extension 
Iraq's improving relations with its neighbors -- represent a 
serious setback and have alarmed senior Iraqi officials, 
suggesting that Iraqi Sunni Arab neighbors in particular now 
view those earlier gains as "reversible." These fears help 
explain the rapid deterioration in relations with Syria and 
the GOI's demand that the UN intervene to investigate the 
August 19 bombings, so as to put Syria on notice that the 
international community is scrutinizing its use of Iraqi 
Ba'athist proxies to interfere in Iraq. Iraq's relations 
Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Iran and Turkey are covered in Part I 
of this message. End Summary. 

PROGRESS WITH THE NEIGHBORS, 2008-09 
------------------------------------ 

3. (C) From 2008 through much of the summer, Iraq's 
relations with its neighbors were on a positive trajectory 
overall. The breakthroughs in regional engagement began in 
the fall of 2008 (following sustained USG pressure), with the 
UAE, Bahrain, and Kuwait all sending ambassadors to Baghdad, 
along with Jordan, the Arab League, and Syria. Iraq also 
began its regular participation in the GCC 3 in 2008. While 
there was less formal movement in 2009, the positive trend 
continued, as the GOI named 58 new ambassadors and the 
Egyptian government took steps to return its ambassador. The 
continuing signs of improvement in security in Iraq in 2008 
and the first half of 2009 provided a growing sense that Iraq 
was becoming a much more secure place and getting strong 
enough to ward off, or at least better control, neighbors' 
meddling in its internal affairs. 

4. (C) However, not all the trendlines were positive during 
this period. Despite pressure from us, the Saudis refused to 
send an ambassador (although they received Iraq's ambassador 
in Riyadh), reflecting Riyadh's and King Abdullah's, in 
particular, deep-seated doubts about a Shia-led democracy in 
Iraq. Relations with other key countries in the region, 
including Syria, Kuwait, and even Turkey, also experienced 
varying degrees of drag on positive movement, ranging from 
foreign fighters issues in Syria to Chapter VII issues in 
Kuwait and water shortfalls from Turkey. The perception 
among many Iraqis during this period was that despite the 
gains in normalization and regional integration, Iraq was a 
pitiful (former) regional giant, preyed upon and held back in 
various ways by neighbors intent on keeping it weak and 
taking advantage of it. 

AUGUST 19: A THREAT TO NORMALIZATION TRENDS 
------------------------------------------- 

5. (C) The August 19 bombings which severely damaged the MFA 
and the Ministry of Finance buildings and Baghdad's 
residents' sense of improving security, brought these 
negative trendlines into sharp relief. The bombings undercut 
the perception of normalization that had become a commonplace 
over the past eighteen months (and undercut PM Maliki's 
platform of having delivered on security). Iraqis, both 
official and unofficial, believe it was no accident that one 
of the main targets, and the one that suffered the most 
Qof the main targets, and the one that suffered the most 
damage, is the MFA, symbol of Iraq's efforts to build 
relations with its neighbors and normalize its position in 
the region. 

6. (C) In the immediate aftermath of the bombings, FM Zebari 
made accusations that one or more of the neighboring 
countries had conspired with al-Qaeda, possibly using 
proxies, to support the bombings. In a meeting with the 
Ambassador, PM Maliki referred to a "momentum of 
interference" that was building in the lead-up to the January 
national elections. Zebari described the next 5-6 month 
time-frame as "a period of maximum danger" for Iraq. The 
bombings were meant to convey the perception -- welcomed by 
some neighbors, he insisted -- that the security and 
normalization in Iraq of the past two years were "reversible." 

DO THE NEIGHBORS HAVE IT IN FOR IRAQ? 
------------------------------------- 

7. (C) Iraqi contacts speculated that regional unease about 

BAGHDAD 00002561 002 OF 002 


a Shia-led Iraqi government, and about the democratic 
character of that government, a model that could eventually 
undermine the legitimacy of more autocratic regimes in the 
region, helped explain why some neighbors would prefer a weak 
and unstable Iraq, where security and political gains of the 
past two years are rolled back. Acting NSC Advisor Dr. Safa 
al-Sheikh described the neighbors as bent on intervening in 
Iraq, especially in the months leading up to the January 2010 
elections. While some used proxies to foment violence, 
others restricted themselves to money, media (propaganda), 
and meddling, all designed to help shape electoral 
coalitions, and block or further individual political 
careers, in order to better control Iraq and keep it weak, 
politically fractured, and pliable, insisted al-Sheikh. PM 
Maliki told the Ambassador that neighbors feared a resurgent 
Iraq that would capture too much of "the limelight." 
According to Maliki, neighbors also feared Iraq's "golden 
connection between Shia and Sunni Islam," a legacy that gives 
Iraq special precedence in the region. His argument is based 
on a well-acknowledged fact that Iraq is the grand junction 
of Shia and Sunni Islam as well as of the Arab world and 
Persia, making it, therefore, both strategically vital but 
also vulnerable. The view of key contacts here is that some 
of Iraq's Sunni Arab neighbors have concluded that in a 
stable, peaceful Iraqi democracy, Sunni political power in 
Iraq would be finished. These Arab neighbors, therefore, 
conclude that the only way the Sunnis will ever come back 
into power in Iraq is in the wake of a period of sustained 
instability and violence that de-legitimizes democratic 
governance and the Shia as Iraqi political leaders. 

RELATIONS WITH SYRIA IN CRISIS 
------------------------------ 

8. (C) Relations with Syria suffered the most precipitous 
decline in the wake of the attacks, with mutual recalls of 
Ambassadors and public statements making clear the GOI felt 
Syria was complicit. While Syrian support for Iraqi 
Ba'athists has long been a significant bilateral irritant, 
the GOI's public claim that Syrian-based insurgents were 
responsible for August 19 represented a significant shift. 
To the al-Maliki government, the problem was now seen as an 
existential threat to the state and the GOI could no longer 
treat the issue with routine diplomacy, especially given 
fears these attacks were only the first wave. According to 
Maliki and al-Sheikh, senior Iraqi security officers had seen 
a growing body of intelligence in the months leading up to 
attacks indicating significant cooperation between Iraqi 
Ba'athists and al-Qaeda, although Sheikh acknowledged that 
the proof for Iraqi Ba'athist involvement in the August 19 
bombings had been assembled "somewhat quickly." He explained 
that at the cell level, Ba'athists participate with some 
al-Qaida groups -- usually disguising their Baathist 
sympathies -- and often dominate the local groups because 
they have highly prized skills such as experience handling 
weapons and explosives. 

9. (C) Iraqi officials make clear that despite the current 
problems with Syria, they foresee the possibility of improved 
relations in the future. PM Maliki recently stated that Iraq 
wanted a harder-line USG policy toward Syria only to the 
extent it would help compel Syria to stop misbehaving and be 
a better neighbor. The problem, according to Maliki and 
others, is that Syria is a neighborhood menace with a history 
of fomenting violence and inciting instability in the region 
-- and it viewed these tactics as part of the standard tools 
Q-- and it viewed these tactics as part of the standard tools 
of diplomacy. Iraq's problem is that it is too weak on its 
own to intimidate Syria into behaving. With no troops "to 
mass on the border" as a threat, as Turkey had once done, and 
taking his cue from Lebanon's experience following the Hariri 
assassination, Maliki felt he had no recourse but to take the 
issue to the UNSC, hoping this diplomatic "stick" might 
persuade Bashar and his regime to back off. Iraq is looking 
to the United States and other members of the P-5 to endorse 
the appointment by the UNSYG of a senior official to 
investigate the August 19 bombings and external support for 
terrorism in Iraq. (NOTE: Not all Iraqi officials agreed 
with the PM's approach. On September 5, Iraq's three 
presidents -- Talabani, Hashimi and Abd al-Mahdi -- issued a 
statement calling for containing tension between Iraq and 
Syria through diplomatic channels, an obvious rejection of 
Maliki's insistence on UN involvement. END NOTE.) 

10. (U) Iraq's relations Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Iran and 
Turkey are covered in Part I of this message. 

HILL